FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Father and daughter Gerald and Kristine Altwies share a passion for the theater, and they're familiar faces on local stages.
Staging a family affair
The Altwies share a love for the acting life
'IT'S silly, because you know how they say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree?" asks local stage actor Gerald Altwies. "Well, in our case, the apples fell before we knew there was an apple tree."
Gerald refers to the acting bug that seems to have bitten every member of his family -- wife Frances, daughter Kristine and sons Justin and Hans Peter -- before he realized it had bitten him, too.
"When I first began acting, I had terrible stage fright," he says. "But I worked on it to become a better communicator."
In the process, Gerald grew to love being on stage -- and his efforts paid off. His acting has been lauded over the years, and his latest work, in "Over My Dead Body" at Manoa Valley Theatre, which runs through May 27, is already garnering him praise.
Originally a member of Hawaii Opera Chorus, Gerald took his first acting role in Diamond Head Theatre's 1995 production of "The Taming of the Shrew." Watching backstage, he was riveted by a stunning performance of the "shrew," played by Kristine. "She's powerful in everything she does," he says.
And that's not just fatherly pride talking. Kristine is a three-time Po'okela Award winner for her roles in "Sylvia" (1998), "Three Tall Women" (1996) and "Dancing at Lughnasa" (1994).
STAR-BULLETIN / 1998
Kristine Altwies, right, played a dog and won a Po'okela Award for Manoa Valley Theatre's 1998 production of "Sylvia." She shared the stage with Susan Park and Dwight Martin.
Although Kristine hasn't spent a lot of time acting in recent years -- since the 1990s, she's been a bit busy: building a business, earning a master's degree in psychology and having a baby -- it continues to be a passion, and she found time last year to take part in "The Real Thing," produced by Hawaii Repertory Theatre.
Kristine says her love of the stage was instilled by her parents. "Art was an everyday occurrence for us." Family trips to the symphony and local theater "left me craving the arts from an early age," she says.
"When I lived in New York City, I bought those cheap tickets and watched performances two times a day."
As for the other Altwies offspring, Justin performed in college while attending Chaminade University, while Hans Peter has built a successful stage career in Seattle.
Gerald says his introduction to the arts came when he met Frances, an art major in college. When the couple joined Honolulu Waldorf School, they began performing in faculty-cast Christmas productions, an annual treat for students.
Since the Altwies youngsters attended the school, "our children saw their parents being foolish on stage from the time they were very young," Gerald says with a laugh.
"It made a strong impression, seeing them bring live performance to the students," Kristine adds.
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Kristine Altwies, holding up pictures of her brothers, Hans Peter and Justin, loves the theater, as does her father, Gerald. Hans Peter, in the black-and-white shot, is a professional actor; Justin was an actor in college. Will 22-month-old Ava, Kristine's daughter, continue the Altwies acting tradition? Frances Altwies, Gerald's wife and Kristine's mother, is a painter. Those are her works in the background.
IF the Altwies family waxes poetic over theater, it's because the stage is like a second home. Gerald, head of the brood, has been a regular presence on the local scene for six years. "I try to do three productions a year. With a month of rehearsals and one month of performances, that's a lot," says the retired teacher, who admits it's a challenge he enjoys. "And I'll do summer Shakespeare this year for a fourth season."
Daughter Kristine Altwies, meanwhile, has held a torch for the theater all her life.
"As a teenager, I was living in Europe for a period. As you know, the teen years can be really hard, especially in a foreign country. You don't have money but you have big thoughts and feelings. The theater was freeing and comforting to me," she says. "I'd stand in line for two hours to go to see the Viennese opera."
In the 1990s, she was an active member of the isle theater community. Kristine racked up three Po'okela awards and ran an actors group with friends, producing plays in which they also directed and starred.
Today, she takes the occasional part when she can fit it in between roles as executive director of Hawaii International Child and mother to 22-month-old Ava. Her last work, in "The Real Thing," produced by Hawaii Repertory Theatre last year, earned her rave reviews.
Kristine's brothers, Justin and Hans Peter, also found their way to the stage. Justin worked in university productions while at Chaminade, and Hans Peter is a professional stage actor in Seattle, where he's sought for leading roles by the best theaters in the city.
Even their mom, Frances, has put in many hours on stage productions, designing sets for plays at Honolulu Waldorf School, where she teaches, and, once a year, acting in a faculty holiday play.
"She's a painter and loves building things, and she builds amazing sets," Gerald says. "And she claims not to be an actor, but we always say she's probably the best one of us all. She's hilarious!"
KARIS LO / MANOA VALLEY THEATRE
In Manoa Valley Theatre's "Over My Dead Body," playing through May 27, Gerald Altwies, above center, is surrounded by, clockwise from lower left, Elizabeth May, Stephen Mead, Tom Holowach, Jo Pruden, Peter Clark and Walter Eccles.
UNLIKE KRISTINE, Gerald's relationship with the stage wasn't love at first sight. Rather, it was the uncomfortable but inevitable next step for the talented singer.
"I loved opera theater. I loved being in the back as part of it all," Gerald says of his longtime stint as a member of the Hawaii Opera Chorus. "Then my voice teacher said it was time for me to go solo."
Gerald auditioned for a musical, and much to his dismay, got the part. Despite an uneasiness with the spotlight, he acted in musicals for a few years.
"Hawaii theater is so accommodating, so available to ordinary citizens," he says with gratitude.
It was Manoa Valley Theatre's production of "Red Herring" in 2004 that rooted Gerald's love affair with acting. In it, he played various roles, and Kristine says he pulled it off beautifully.
"Not only did he play multiple characters, he had to do lots of accents, and he was really, really good," she says. "My pet peeve is badly done accents, and I spent lots of time in Russia so I know Russian accents. He played a Russian sailor and his accent was just perfect."
KARIS LO / MANOA VALLEY THEATRE
Kristine Altwies acted in "The Real Thing" last year with Rob Duval.
BUT FOR GERALD, acting is more than simply an engaging hobby or personal challenge. He sees all forms of art as vital to the community.
In his work as a teacher at Honolulu Waldorf School, where much of the education is provided through art, he understood the value of the presence of art.
"I saw children thriving through the opportunity to produce art every day," he says. "Not only for personal expression, but in being exposed to great art. Great art heals you, and I saw children receive therapy on a daily basis."
"When you have art in your life, you're connected to something bigger that's very positive. For myself, I don't go to church, but when I see great art, I feel pious and reverent and lifted and grateful," she says.
As for acting, Gerald says he is of highest service to the community in "becoming invisible."
"When you look at a painting you can see the artist's genius," he says. "But in theater, you have to look through another human being to see the artist's genius. Actors must strip away the self and avail themselves to the genius of the artist. They must make themselves available to the artist's story.
"As an actor, I must make the audience comfortable enough so they don't see me. It's a huge opportunity to become available to other people without an ego presence. As a human being, I can become more of service to the world that way than standing forth as a presence."